The 32nd EDSA commemoration was concluded with vows to defeat any other would-be dictator and tyrant.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – “We were able to get rid of a dictator. We’re not just remembering, we want to refresh and resurrect that EDSA spirit.” Sister Mary John Mananzan, veteran of the first people power, said these by way of opening the 32nd commemoration of People Power at the People’s Monument in EDSA on Friday, February 24. Before her was a crowd broader than recent EDSA protests.
After she spoke, she was followed by other nuns and bishops, a peasant leader from Eastern Visayas and an indigenous leader from Mindanao, a summa cum laude UP graduate and a teenage Lumad student, a journalist, a human rights advocate, a mass leader, a representative of the political opposition, of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and of the Vice-President, among others.
Each delivered a facet of the Filipino situation reminiscent of the times under the dictatorship. They all raised the alarm at the ongoing martial law in Mindanao, the spate of illegal arrests and detention, the continuing rights violations.
“The response of the government to those who do not agree to their policies remains the same,” said Karapatan deputy secretary general Jigs Clamor. He said the government’s response to people’s questions and protests is still imprisonment, killings. Denial of their human rights.
The protesters responded to the Duterte administration’s burgeoning attack on democratic rights with vows to gather for bigger cooperation and collective action.
President Duterte lashed out at the students who were attending rallies; the students responded with a national walkout protest. At the 32nd EDSA commemoration, the walkout against cha-cha, TRAIN tax reform, jeepney phaseout, etc was especially cited.
UP summa cum laude grad Raoul Manuel, now with Resist Against Tyranny, asked, in response to Duterte’s threat against students joining protests, Of “What use are high grades in school if one fails to serve our country?”
Reading the message of Supreme Court Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno, her spokesperson and also a lawyer, Josa Deinla, described the Duterte allies’ “investigation” as just a fishing expedition.
“The impeachment moves [against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno] is not just about the Chief Justice. This is an attack against the independence of the judiciary,” Deinla said, reading the message of Chief Justice Sereno at EDSA.
Brave women that include former Social Welfare Sec. Judy Taguiwalo and Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago read a poem about the female genitals by Joy Barrios-LeBlanc, elevating the women and their struggle in contrast to President Duterte’s latest diatribe. (To watch “The Response of the Vagina,” click here.)
Unlike past presidents, Duterte continued to hold no EDSA commemoration program at the EDSA Shrine. Instead, policemen gathered and surrounded the EDSA Shrine, which that Friday was decked out in pastel banners with no messages.
At the People Power Monument, Renato Reyes Jr of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said Duterte is probably not attending any EDSA rites “because he fears the ghost of what will likely befall him.”
A gathering of Martial Law fighters and survivors
At the 32nd EDSA commemoration, they agreed that another aspiring dictator needs to be put in his place.
“He is a small man with a small mind and a big, dirty mouth,” Bishop Teodoro Bacani said about President Duterte. To this the emcees added, “He’s also that small man with small mind and bloody iron hands.”
As with Bayan Muna leader Neri Colmenares who described the proposed charter change — Duterte’s vehicle for tyrannical rule — as the worst cha-cha ever, Bishop Bacani said he is also not in favor of changing the Constitution and, worse, at this rushed manner as the administration is seeking.
He admitted that the Constitution is not perfect, but, “You won’t change the framework of your house in a hurry, why will you do that with your Constitution?” he said.
Kerlan Fanagel of Kalumaran Mindanao and Gina Rosco of National Federation of Sugar Workers shared a few live examples of the ills of martial law happening now in their day-to-day lives. Fanagel detailed the martial-law-fueled militarization of their communities, the tens of thousands of Lumad bakwit (evacuees). With the Duterte administration’s drive to change the constitution to legalize up to 100-percent foreign ownership of Philippine resources, the lands being defended to the death by Lumad, for example, are already being seized for foreign corporations’ plantations, mining and energy projects.
Eleonor de Guzman, daughter of detained peace consultant Rafael Baylosis and wife of recently arrested/abducted Maoj Maga, took the stage with fellow relatives of political prisoners.
“You ask us, ‘Are you not afraid?’ And we say, we don’t have a choice but to continue, to hold on and struggle.”
Among the crowd in EDSA were residents from the provinces of Aurora and Nueva Ecija who are struggling to this day to reclaim hundreds of hectares of their lands that the ousted dictator “borrowed” for SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) activities in the 80s, but did not return to the farmers up to now.
Among the crowd also were parents of martyred New People’s Army fighter Wendell Gumban. The father,65, was teary eyed when the Tag-ani choir sang the song Bayan Ko. Thirty-two years ago, he and his wife were some of the first to arrive at EDSA, before there was a huge crowd. They had been attending rallies with their neighborhood association the years before that. As employees working in Makati at the time, they showered rallyists with confetti and then joined them later. Now, 32 years later, they, too, are commemorating People Power and vowing with others that they’d frustrate another would-be dictator.
Similar to 32 years ago, Edna Gumban, then 32, hopes today the people would be as united and clear in the similar goal of ending Martial Law and ousting a dictator.
Onstage, Renato Reyes Jr of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan requested the crowd to observe a moment of silence for the fallen heroes of the struggle for democracy.
In a statement and onstage, Bayan said of the EDSA People Power, “The uprising was the culmination of years of fierce resistance to the US-backed dictatorship, which included huge mass protest actions in the cities and armed struggle in the countryside by the CPP-NPA, MNLF and MILF.”